When coaching at a program like the University of Kansas, you have to find a way to stand out among distinguished company. In their history the Jayhawks have produced both great players and coaches. The names are legendary: Wilt Chamberlin, Phog Allen, Roy Williams, Larry Brown and Paul Pierce, just to name a few. The university sets the bar so high, that it fired a basketball coach (Ted Owens) after he had won 6 conference Regular Season Titles, 1 Conference Tournament Championship and appeared in 2 Final Fours, all while posting a .657 winning percentage.
It is clear, that if you want to be considered great at the University of Kansas you can’t just win, you have to make yourself big. The best way to do that you ask? Win a National Championship.
By that thinking, Bill Self is already half way there.
Self, who won his sole National Championship in 2008, is the 3rd of the 8 Jayhawk coaches to win a National Championship and has more wins then half of the listing. He is all but assured a spot in the Naismith Hall of Fame (Basketball Hall of Fame), ironically also named after a man who coached in Lawrence, Kansas, and the inventor of Basketball Dr. James Naismith. Perhaps his most impressive accomplishment is the home record established at Kansas: 114-6.
Self, born December 27, 1962 in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, was a standout basketball player at Edmond Memorial High School and then with the Oklahoma State University Cowboys. His first coaching job came in 1985 where he took a position on Larry Brown’s staff. Ironically the man he replaced was John Calipari. The man who Self would beat for the National Championship more then 2 decades later. After spending a season at Kansas, Self would head back to his home state of Oklahoma and coach at his alma mater OSU.
In 1993 Self was offered his first Head Coaching job at Oral Roberts University. Through 4 seasons at Oral Roberts, Self improved the team’s winning percentage and also lead them to their first ever postseason birth: the 1997 NIT. After seeing the success that Self had at Oral Roberts, he was hired on at the University of Tulsa in 1997. In 3 seasons with Tulsa Self won 2 WAC Regular Season Titles and coached Tulsa to their highest finish in the NCAA tournament: the Elite Eight.
Self left Tulsa for the Big 10 and his most prestigious post yet, the University of Illinois. The position became vacant after Lon Kruger left to go coach the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks.
As coach of the Illini Self would achieve great success. Self’s first season in Champaing was successful. Kruger’s recruits, under Self, would get a number 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and bow out in the Elite Eight. Even with teams that would include future professional basketball players Brian Cook, Deron Williams, Brian Cook, Dee Brown and Frank Williams Self under achieved. He however was not without hardware. Self won 1 Big 10 Tournament Championship and 2 Regular Season Championships.
In 2003 it was rumored that Roy Williams would leave the University of Kansas, freeing up a position that Self had wanted since his days as an assistant at the university. After much speculation, Self took the job.
Since 2003 Self has been the head coach at the University of Kansas. With an experienced team left by Williams, Self managed another Elite Eight performance.
Self came into the 2004 season only suffering two losing seasons in his career and, with a team of underclassmen in his first season was expected to struggle. The plucky team proved everyone wrong when they finished the season 2nd in the conference and notched a trip to the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Self has an impressive coaching tree. The tree include Billy Gillespie, Norm Roberts, Barry Hinson, Rob Judson and Sean Sutton.
The 2006 and 2007 seasons, Self would win the Conference Championships and get to the first round and Elite Eight respectively. Both of these seasons built the foundation of what would be the Jayhawk’s first National Championship since Larry Brown won in 1988. The National Championship game was a back and forth affair worthy of being called one of the most notable games in school history. Mario Chalmers hit a three-point shot with 2.1 seconds left to bring the Jayhawks back from 9 points down in the final 2 minutes. This would mark the university’s 3rd National Championship. As a reward for winning, Self was given a 10-year extension at $3 million per year.
Since that season, Self has not made it back to the National Championship. His best finish was in the 2009 season when the Jayhawks went to the Sweet Sixteen. But there is no cause for alarm, because Self has a proven track record for recruiting High School All Americans. Some who have joined Kansas during his tenure are Chalmers, Julian Wright, Micah Downs, Sherron Collins, Dale Arthur, Cole Aldrich and Xavier Henry. Current commitments to Kansas are Royce Woodrich (ESPN grad: 93) with three more McDonald’s High School All Americans considering that move to Lawrence.
Off the court, Self is the founder/leader of the non-profit (501(c)(3)) Assists Foundation. The goal of the organization is to provide young people with better lives. To help raise money for the organization the university and local businesses have held autograph signings and auctions and the band Sawyer Brown have provided entertainment. The foundation also hosts seminars and speaking arrangements, often times with self as the keynote speaker.
Bill Self will stand the test of time. The same way Tom Izzo has, Phog Allen and Larry Brown. He has won a National Title at one of the most traditional powerhouses around, and now he is giving back to the university. You can almost be sure to put his name on a new arena opening up in Lawrence in about 20 years. You can be sure that Self will be there to cut the ribbon.